This survey paper will explore the early events of Reconstruction during and immediately after the Civil War. The topics that will be addressed in this survey paper will be the Thirteenth Amendment, the Freedmen's Bureau, the Black Code, the Fourteenth Amendment and finally some political and social achievements of Reconstruction. Reconstruction to African Americans began as a feeling of joy and triumph for their freedom which was taken away quicker than it took to receive but it just wasn't called slavery anymore.
Emancipation Proclamation/The Thirteenth Amendment
The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 issued by President Lincoln was set up to free blacks from slavery. Soon after Congress enacted and the states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation (Library of Congress). After the Civil War, I feel the biggest problem in the South was labor. To the new African American's freedom meant freedom from white control, autonomy as individuals and as a community. For the most part black people wanted to work for themselves and not for their former masters. But, most black chose to leave the South altogether.
On March 4, 1865, the U.S. government created a temporary federal agency - the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands- to assist 4 million freed slaves in making the transition from slavery to freedom. The agency distributed trainloads of food and clothing provided by the federal government to freed slaves and Southern white refugees (Freedmen's Bureau). The Freedmen's bureau helped to establish a system of wage labor. An advantage of this system was that it gave blacks the power to break contracts and move if they wanted to. The Bureau built hospitals for and gave medical assistance to blacks and whites. The greatest accomplishment was in education: more than 1,000 black schools were built, and over $400,000 was spent in teacher training institutions. All major black colleges in the south were either founded by or received aid from, the bureau. Government employees helped former slaves find jobs, negotiated terms of labor contracts, and investigated claims of unfair treatment. The Freedmen's Bureau became the only guardian of civil rights the former slaves could turn to. Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard was appointed to head the agency. Though his personal integrity was never questioned, Howard's agency was riddled with corruption, inefficiency, and charges of misappropriation of funds. Congress discontinued the Freedmen's Bureau in 1872. (U.S., Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations of the United States of America, vol. 13 (Boston, 1866), pp. 507-9.)
Did You Know? Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard founded the predominantly black Howard University in Washington, DC. The university was named for him, and he served as its third president.
Black Code (a.k.a. Jim Crow Laws)
White Southerners eagerly wanted to return blacks to their former status as slaves. In order to do this "legally" they began passing new "laws" that appeared to be neutral and fair. Of course in actuality they were specifically designed to repress blacks. Some examples of the Black Codes were (Codes are summarized not verbatim for a complete list see Mississippi Black Code website in citations): "Servants shall not be absent from the premises without the permission of the master"; "Servants must assist their masters "in the defense of his own person, family, premises, or property". Consequently, black people had no power to combat the obvious unfair laws (Black Code).
The Fourteenth Amendment
The Fourteenth Amendment of 1866 was enacted to protect the freedmen from the abrogation of his rights by the Southern states (Congress). It made everyone born in the United States a citizen and required that citizens be given "due process" and the "equal protection of laws". The Fourteenth Amendment also prohibited the States from denying or taking away the...
Cited: Hine, Darlene C., Hine, William C., Harrold, Stanley: The African-American Odyssey – Volume Two: Since 1865. Second Edition. Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. 2003.
Mississipi Black Code
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.: http://www.loc.gov
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